An honour for women, Muslims, minorities and immigrants

Akeela MBE

Image credit: Cabinet Office

Last month I received a letter notifying me that I had been nominated for an Honours. To say I was surprised is an understatement. I couldn’t believe what I was reading and had to ask hubby dearest to double check that I had indeed been nominated for an MBE, as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours. I was flabbergasted.

It’s an incredible feeling knowing that someone in my network of colleagues and friends had not only taken the time to first consider that I would be deserving of such an accolade, but then took the time to nominate me.

Apparently the nomination process is a long one which can take years, and involves a number of people. So I am truly humbled to know that someone believed that the work I do has made a difference, and involved others in the process too.

But shortly after finding out about the nomination, I initially went though self-doubt and the usual imposter syndrome that many of us women face. And this led me to reflect on what it meant to receive such an honour.

In my heart I know that if I am to be recognised for services to Muslim women then this award is not just for me, but for all the incredible British Muslim women that I have had the honour of working with, whose voices, experiences and perspectives are so often unheard and stereotyped. This award is for them and for every marginalised (or otherwise) woman who thinks that her voice won’t be heard or doesn’t matter. I am only honoured because I have been lucky enough to work with amazing women who are inspirational change makers, making significant and positive contributions within their local communities, and nationally too.

On a more personal level, the award has a profound significance. It is an award for my own mother, who was a 12 year old girl when, as a British subject, Idi Amin decided to expel her and many others from Uganda. She travelled across two continents with her family to finally settle in the UK at the tender age of 16. She missed out on an education but soon after her arrival she started work in a factory with her older brother. Soon she faced racism that was typical of the 70’s. Caucasian in appearance, her co-workers asked her why she hung out with a black guy (her brother) and didn’t just stick with them. Being the jolly person that she is, she laughed it off and told them he was her brother. It didn’t deter her from working hard and getting on with it, and to achieve her dreams. A few years later she was taken aside again by a concerned colleague who was worried that people were shortening her name to something that sounded like ‘Nazi’, and recommended that she started using a new nickname, ‘Sue’. For many years growing up I knew my mum as Sue, because that was the way it was.

This honour is also for my father, who came to this country from poverty in India, with the hopes and dreams of his mother, a Gujarati woman who had to provide for her children and wanted them to have a better life than her in a democratic country in which they wouldn’t be discriminated against on the basis of their faith, caste or gender. My grandmother had a vision of Britain being a society based on fairness and equality, something she hadn’t experienced in India, as a minority within a minority. If it wasn’t for her, my father wouldn’t be here today. If it wasn’t for him and my mother, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

So this honour is for them, ‘Sue and Jimmy’, and testament to the sacrifices they have made and the obstacles they have overcome to give us a better life than their parents could have ever dreamed of. Indeed, this honour is not only for all my immigrant grandparents; it is for all immigrants who come to the UK with aspirations, hopes and dreams.

By Akeela Ahmed MBE

I also want to thank my tribe without whom none of this would be possible. Thank you to my sisters, who ‘get me’. Thank you to my daughters and son, who motivate and support me endlessly. And a special thank you to hubby who is with me every step of this journey.

Akeela Ahmed named one of Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017: The activist who helped organise the Women’s March On London

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Image Credit: Stylist Magazine

So this week I was named one of Stylist magazine’s Women of the Year 2017. I still can’t quite believe it. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, love and uplifting messages received from friends and colleagues 💕 following the feature.

Being involved with, and speaking at the Women’s March London was incredible for so many reasons but it is only now that I reflect some 11 months later, that I understand just how deeply impactful it was for me – for the first time in my life I had been supported to stand up and speak against all the various injustices facing women today – in my own words and on my own terms. And on a huge platform to thousands of people, from all walks of life. That was, and still is today immensely empowering and transformative. For having created this space of solidarity, I have much love for all the amazing women involved in organising WML, who are and were so open and trusting.

With the feature in Stylist, I had the opportunity to speak again, freely without fear and without someone else’s agenda being imposed upon me. I hope the piece goes some way to progress the narratives and perceptions of Muslim women. Kudos to Stylist who featured not just me but two other inspirational Muslim Women. We really are better when we #StandTogether

Image credit: Stylist Magazine

Newspaper Reviews

I was recently asked to do the Newspaper review on BBC London’s Jumoka Fashola ‘Inspirit’ programme which is a regular slot on Sunday mornings. This was an exciting opportunity as I had never done a newspaper review previously, however I loved radio. I’ve done the Newspaper review twice now, and really enjoyed them. It’s a unique and good way to talk about a range of topics through reviewing different articles from various newspapers. And Jumoke is great at making me feel at ease, like I am having a conversation at the kitchen table!

During discussions I have been able to talk about mental health – anyone who knows me, knows this is a topic close to my heart – IVF, the far right, President Trump, and much more!

Click on the files below to have a listen:

Recognition of MBE by my University King’s College London

I was really chuffed to discover that the King’s College London, where I gained an MSc in Mental Health Studies, in the department known as the Institute of Psychiatry, acknowledged the MBE award I received in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

In a page titled ‘Celebrating alumni recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list’ I am listed along with alongside a diverse range of esteemed alumni who also received an honour. Click the link below to have a look.

https://alumni.kcl.ac.uk/news-features/celebrating-alumni-recognised-in-the-queens-birthday-honours-list

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I very much enjoyed the two years I spent there as a part time Masters student, and made some lifelong friends. The quality of teaching was excellent and I was fortunate to learn from some of the best in the field of Mental Health. I still regularly use the research skills I gained in my current work, and the ability to write research reports. Most invaluable was the theoretical grounding I gained in Mental Health, which coupled with my experience of working with people facing mental and social challenges, during my career has provided me the tools and insights to design services for vulnerable people in a range of settings.

Thank you KCL for being a wonderful place of learning and for celebrating the recognition I received in the Queen’s Birthday Honours (2018).

Women’s right to vote: Marking 100 years

February the 6th 2018 marked 100 years since some women won the right to vote. I was fortunate to be asked to appear on BBC Breakfast to discuss young women’s participation in democracy and politics. I was privileged to be on a panel with amazing women each with an expertise on women’s voting and its history. I spoke about the contribution made by Asian suffragettes, an area which is still under researched and often overlooked in accounts of the suffrage movement.

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I was also honoured to be invited onto the prestigious BBC Woman’s Hour  for a discussion on modern day activism and 100 years on since some women first won the right to vote.  You can listen to my contribution to the programme below, click on the video!

Broadcast live from the Pankhurst Centre – the house in Manchester where leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst lived and campaigned, I spoke alongside eminent women; Gail Heath, Chief Executive of the Pankhurst Trust and suffrage historians Elizabeth Crawford and Diane Atkinson, and activist Caroline Criado Perez. The programme also included an interview with the Prime Minister Theresa May.  

Below are a few images of the historic day, one which I will remember fondly.

Time Out

On International Women’s Day, 8th March 2018, I was asked by Time Out magazine to choose two women I would like to thank for inspiring me. It was incredibly difficult to just choose two, and I was tempted to simply thank the amazing women in my family.

Instead, I thought it would be a fabulous opportunity to highlight two amazing women of colour, one well known and another perhaps less well known outside of intersectional feminist circles.  It was an honour and privilege to be asked, so I really wanted to make sure that my choices represented. See below for my two choices!

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TimesUp on Bigotry and Hatred

On 21 January 2017, I spoke at the Women’s March on London. The anniversary is tomorrow and this year we at WML are saying #TimesUp on a gender pay gap, women’s inequality, discrimination, bigotry, all phobias, the policing of women’s bodies and what we wear, and a whole host of other issues. You can read our statement.

January 21 2017 was one of the best days of my life, never had I experienced so many people standing with me against all forms of discrimination. Below is the speech I gave, you can also watch my speech.

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“2016 was an awful year with the rise of dog whistle politics, xenophobic rhetoric and politicians and would be leaders who have rose to power on the back of the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies these same politicians exploited fears and stoked up divisions, in the name getting our country back.

We saw the very real and dangerous consequences of the mainstreaming of xenophobic rhetoric and far right sentiments, with the brutal murder of Jox Cox.
Joe Cox was murdered for her passion for an inclusive society, for her belief that we have more in common.

I’m a British born Muslim woman. growing up in the 80’s I saw my parents regularly attacked by the National Front because of the colour of their skin.
Now 30 years later we are living in a climate of fear, being a Muslim woman is very challenging.
We face multiple challenges and multiple prejudices, from structural discrimination to the fact that we more than likely to experience physical and verbal abuse on the street just because of who we are and how we dress.
As of yesterday we have a leader of the free world who questions our right to be treated as equal citizens, who wants to deny our basic freedoms and fundamental rights.
All minorities, including immigrants, Eastern Europeans, LGBTQ communities have all faced a backlash from this new nasty politics of fear
It would be too easy to only focus on the negative, to feel despair and hideaway but do not lose hope.
Remember that Women have a long history of being at the forefront of fighting for equality and justice – as we are the ones who suffer the worst consequences of irresponsible men in power. History shows us that Women have changed the world, from the suffragette movement to Rosa Parks heroic act – and we can do it again.
Women’s rights are human rights – let’s unite across boundaries of faith, ethnicity, gender and sexuality – for equality and justice for all, in ways that are so powerful, that we will tear down the walls of division that are being built by those who seek to divide us.
We will not let bigotry and hatred overcome us.

This new era of world politics is an opportunity for us to come together not in protest, but in celebration of the strength that our diversity gives us and stand united for justice, equality and peace.”

Presentation on Far Right

akeela imams online conference

Earlier this year, I presented at the Imam’s online conference held at Google offices in London. I was glad that I had the opportunity to discuss the increase in Far Right extremism and anti-Muslim hatred.  You can click on the link below to read the presentation. If you will be using any of the information contained the presentation, then I ask that you credit myself by linking to this page.

Presentation of Far Right PDF

Speech given at Women’s March on London

On 21st January 2017 I opened the Women’s March on London with a speech about global political challenges and the power women in unifying humanity and to bring about change. This was the first time that I had spoken to such a large crowd – the Met Police estimated around one hundred thousand people marched that day.

Sorry it has taken me a while to post this up, I know some of you wanted access to the speech. Also this is the raw draft that I used to speak from on the day, so it is not written as an article.

“2016 was an awful year with the rise of dog whistle politics, xenophobic rhetoric and politicians and would be leaders who have rose to power on the back of the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies.

These same politicians exploited fears and stoked up divisions, in the name getting our country back.

We saw the very real and  dangerous  consequences of the mainstreaming of  xenophobic rhetoric and far right sentiments, with  the brutal murder of Jox Cox. Joe Cox was murdered for her passion for an inclusive society, for her belief that we have more in common.

I’m a British born Muslim woman. growing up in the 80’s I saw my parents regularly attacked by the National Front because of the colour of their skin. Now 30 years later we are living in a climate of fear, being a Muslim woman is very challenging. We (Muslim women) face multiple challenges and multiple prejudices, from structural discrimination to the fact that we more than likely to experience physical and verbal abuse on the street just because of who we are and how we dress.

As of yesterday (20/01/2017) we have a leader of the free world who questions our right to be treated as equal citizens, who wants to deny our basic freedoms and fundamental rights. All minorities, including  immigrants, Eastern Europeans, LGBTQ communities have all faced a backlash from this new nasty politics of fear.

It would be too easy to only focus on the negative, to feel despair and hideaway but do not lose hope. Remember that Women have a long history of being at the forefront of fighting for equality and justice – as we are the ones who suffer the worst consequences of irresponsible men in power. History shows us that Women have changed the world, from the suffragette movement to Rosa Parks heroic act – and we can do it again. Women’s rights are human rights – let’s unite across boundaries of faith, ethnicity, gender and sexuality – for equality and justice for all, in ways that are so powerful, that we will tear down the walls of division that are being built by those who seek to divide us.

We will not let bigotry and hatred overcome us.

This new era of world politics is an opportunity for us to come together not in protest, but in celebration of the strength that our diversity gives us and stand united for justice, equality and peace.”

 

Open Call for Submissions from Muslim Writers

Like so many of you, we are gravely alarmed by the present administration’s recent broad ban on refugees and immigrants from Muslim countries. Our hearts ache for the innocent people affected…

Source: Open Call for Submissions from Muslim Writers

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